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The Legal Beagle’s favorite book and that of dog lovers everywhere is Every Dog’s Legal Guide: A Must Have Book for Your Owner by Mary Randolph (KF390.5 .D6 R36 2005). His favorite movie is about the crime fighting pooch, Underdog! His current hero is Uno, the beagle who won Best in Show at the...

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Fun with the Search for Aliens

Posted by Library Blog on 03/23/2016 at 01:46 PM

According to Examiner.com, March 20th was Extraterrestrial Abductions Day.

The idea:

Having never heard of this “holiday” and having no idea how one might celebrate it, the Legal Beagle decided to see what would happen if one looked up the same concept in multiple databases. Would Lexis Advance, Westlaw and Bloomberg Law all agree on what case is the “leading case” on this topic?

The strategy:

To begin, I decided on a search strategy. Instead of searching “extraterrestrial abductions” as the word abduction has legal significance, I decided that I would search “extraterrestrial encounters.” In addition, I decided not to use any Boolean logic. I decided I would enter the phrase “extraterrestrial encounters” into each database’s Google-like search bar without quotation marks and without choosing a jurisdiction.

The results:

I started with Westlaw. I entered “extraterrestrial encounters” into the search bar, used the default jurisdictional setting of All State & Federal, and pressed the Search button. I then selected Cases from the left side menu.

As you can see, the leading result returned is Heirs of Estate of Jenkins v. Paramount Pictures Corp. In this case, Heirs of the estate of a science fiction author who wrote a story called “First Contact” sued the producers of Star Trek: First Contact for trademark infringement.

Westlaw example

Next, I turned to Bloomberg Law. I entered the search terms into the GO bar and selected Court Opinions as the Content Type from the left side menu. The first result in this database is Warner Bros. v. Am. Broad. Cos. In this case, the owners of the rights in the character Superman (Warner Bros. Inc., Film Export, A.G., and DC Comics, Inc.) sued the TV network ABC for several alleged infringements of the Superman brand.

Bloomberg example

Finally, I logged into Lexis Advance. I entered the search terms into the red search box, set the jurisdictional filter to “Everything,” and pressed the red magnifying glass button. I then selected cases from the Snapshot menu on the left side of the screen. The first case Lexis returns is Fla. v. Bostick about the luggage search of a bus passenger during a routine drug interdiction effort by police in Fort Lauderdale.

Lexis Example

While I have chosen a silly example search, the point I am making is a serious one. Different search engines use different algorithms and return different results even when you input the exact same search terms.

If you have any questions about the differences between these databases, please stop by the Reference Desk and chat with a librarian.